When a well-known person faces a serious medical situation, it brings attention to the illness and treatments.
This is what happened when legendary NBC News anchorman Tom Brokaw was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare form of blood cancer, at the Mayo Clinic. He has since written about his experiences in an inspiring new book, “A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope.”
Brokaw, a member of the Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees, had been suffering from persistent back pain. His doctor visits close to home didn’t yield any answers, so he eventually made an appointment when he was in Rochester to see a Mayo orthopedist and then his internist.
Brokaw’s case was particularly tricky as nothing was spotted during the initial exam. His internist, Dr. Andrew Majka, wanted to look a little deeper. He ordered blood tests because he was concerned Brokaw had a hematoma from two unexpected falls he’d had while fishing.
After examining the blood results, Dr. Majka and Dr. Morie Gertz, chair of internal medicine, confirmed the diagnosis of multiple myeloma. “In my 30 years of work on multiple myeloma, I have seen a 200 to 300 percent improvement in survival rates. It used to be uniformly fatal,” says Gertz.
The cause of multiple myeloma is unknown, but that is the subject of active research at Mayo, as are the searches for cures. Others who have suffered from the disease have included ABC News anchorman Frank Reynolds and Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for U.S. vice president
“The future of patients who have been stricken with multiple myeloma is very, very positive. There are new drug trials that we are leading. There is rapid development of new diagnostic tools, brand new therapeutic classes of drugs and new biological agents. All of these can be combined to maximize outcomes and minimize any adverse effects and allow patients to lead a completely normal life,” says Gertz.
He says multiple myeloma will continue to be heavily researched, and Mayo will be an important partner in new treatments based on the understanding of the biology of the disease.
Brokaw writes that even before he became a Mayo trustee, he shared a “Midwestern pride” in the clinic as “one of the world’s greatest healthcare facilities, known for its expert, coordinated care and patient efficiency.
Brokaw ends the book with, “It is not enough to ‘rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ It is also a time to quietly savor the advantages of a lucky life and use them to fill every waking moment with emotional and intellectual pursuits worthy of the precious time we have. Life, what’s left. Bring it on.”
Watch a video of Morie Gertz, M.D., describe how Mayo Clinic is advancing diagnosis and treatment of multiple myeloma.